Friday 6 January 2023

Peter Gabriel: Panopticom

Peter Gabriel has just released the first single from his long-awaited new album, I/O.

Let's just reflect on the significance of that. When I say "long-awaited" about a Peter Gabriel album, I really mean it. This album has been 20 years in the making. Peter Gabriel is the Leonardo da Vinci of rock - an absolute genius, but he takes forever to get anything done.

Anyway, here's the song. It's called Panopticom .

Lyrically, it's about how information is more available than ever before. Peter recognises the sinister side to this - the title refers to Jeremy Bentham's idea of the panopticon, the perfect prison where all prisoners are under constant surveillance (so presumably have to change their ways because they can't get away with anything) and there's a reference to the Stasi in the second verse. But Peter Gabriel is an optimist, and the song is mainly about the potential of citizen journalism to make us all better informed and hold those in power to account (as his charity Witness seeks to do). The key line of the chorus is Let's find out what's going on. Having worked in two media organisations and done independent research on Fake News Detection, I find this resonates with me, and it's good that the optimism of the early Internet is still alive.

Musically, Peter's in fine voice, there's some nice guitar work from David Rhodes, and Brian Eno adds some atmospheric synths.

I'd say it's worth keeping an eye on Peter Gabriel.

Thursday 22 December 2022

Social Media with Fewer Narcissists

If you encountered this post via a social network that was recently acquired by a narcissist, you may be interested to know that I have a presence on Mastodon . I'm putting the link to it here because, while Noel Skum has been forced to backpedal on banning links to other social networks (which would have made him editorially liable for everything on the platform), I'm not daft enough to trust him, and besides, I don't expect that platform to survive more than a year (yes, I know he's stepping down as CEO, but he'll still own it, and he's not likely to appoint anyone other than a yes-man to run it as his proxy). Decentralised, non-commercial systems look to be the way forward for social media.

Wednesday 22 December 2021


When I was little, there was a scare about the safety of the whooping cough vaccine. My mum had had whooping cough as a child - she had a bad chest for the rest of her life (you could identify her by her cough) and she eventually died of bronchiectasis - so I was thought to be at risk of complications. So instead of the whooping cough vaccine, I got the real thing when I was about 3. Fortunately, I had some protection from maternal antibodies, so I only got what Mum described as a very mild case, but even the mildest case of whooping cough is an illness you never forget.

So when I had my own children, I made sure they got all their vaccinations, and when I got offered my COVID-19 vaccination, I didn't hesitate. My wife had had a very mild case of COVID-19 early on, and by a very mild case, I mean she was flat on her back feeling utterly miserable for two weeks.

I've now had two doses of Astra Zeneca and one of Moderna (apparently that's a good combination). I had some side effects after the first dose (cramp, fever, vomiting), but I'd take that over COVID-19 any day, No problems at all with the second dose, and the wooziness I got after the booster was probably down to the flu jab I got at the same time.

So, if you know anyone who's reluctant to get vaccinated, tell them my story. Tell them not to be afraid of vaccines, because the real thing would be far worse. Tell them that no soldier would go into battle without his gun. And tell them that the sooner everybody's vaccinated, the sooner we beat this wretched disease and get back to normal life.

Wednesday 29 September 2021

Why I Hate Genderflipping

My daughter, who was originally the one of my family most in favour of a female Doctor, once said, "You know, I feel sorry for Jodie Whittaker, because I've seen her in other things, and she can actually act."

Now, Chibnall's writing is mediocre at best, but that wasn't the only problem. There's an intrinsic problem with genderflipping. I've seen a couple of other productions that used it, and found them problematic.

Twelfth Night is my favourite Shakespeare play. In a subplot, the pompous steward Malvolio offends some other characters by spoiling their fun. In revenge, they forge a letter from his employer, the Countess Olivia, claiming that she's in love with him, trick him into wearing yellow stockings and cross garters to impress her (he looks ridiculous, and she hates that style to start with) and convince her that he's gone mad. (Note, Malvolio claims to be a Puritan, the Puritans wanted to close down theatres, Shakespeare's audience would have seen him as the bad guy).

I saw a production of Twelfth Night at the National Theatre, with Tamsin Grieg as a genderflipped Malvolio. Portraying Malvolio as a woman made the prank come across as unpleasantly homophobic. Worse still, the yellow stockings and cross garters became a yellow corset with propellers on the nipples - not merely stupid but degrading.

I also saw a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in which Lysander was portrayed as a woman. Again, Egeus' opposition to Lysander marrying Hermia became implicitly homophobic, not merely putting his paternal authority over his daughter's happiness. The production couldn't resolve that problem, because it was never in the text - they had created it themselves.

So back to Doctor Who. Chris Chibnall presents the 13th Doctor as a great leap forward for the representation of women, but that's sheer hypocrisy coming from him. Steven Moffat wrote compelling female characters - Clara, Amy, River. But 13 is a vapid chatterbox who spouts inane platitudes and corporate slogans, Yaz is just bland, and Grace was fridged in the first episode. Chibnall has always been a mysogynistic writer - his writing for Torchwood and Camelot shows that, so he doesn't get to call anyone else sexist when they criticise his worthless gimmick.

If you want good female characters, write them as women from the outset. It worked for Dana Scully, it worked for Emma Peel. If you want good male characters, write them as male from the outset. It worked for The Doctor. But if you gendeflip an established male character (nobody would suggest doing it the other way round) you're just replacing a good male character with a poor female one, plus some awkward subtext.